It’s obviously still early in the offseason for the Buccaneers. The Super Bowl hasn’t even happened yet. But that hasn’t stopped the Tampa Bay fan base from shifting focus to the 2019 season. Since the Bucs have already made a coaching change, that focus is particularly set on free agency, the NFL Draft and the overall setup of the roster for the new season.
One topic that has been discussed is the future of the Tampa Bay backfield. Peyton Barber is a restricted free agent, but will more than likely be back in red and pewter when training camp rolls around. Behind him, the Bucs presumably have Ronald Jones II in place to be the No. 2 guy, potentially in a spot where he could split carries with Barber. Despite that, there has been some talk from the fan base about making a splash at the running back position. However, making a big move might not be the best course of action for general manager Jason Licht and his staff.
A lot of people have mentioned Licht’s ability to admit his mistakes and cut his losses. That’s one of the supporting reasons behind potentially bringing in a big name, which would signal that the team is moving on from Jones after just one season. The free agency class for running backs is pretty deep this year, as is the draft class. There are a lot of names that will eventually be marked as fits for the Bucs. Le’Veon Bell’s name has already been thrown around in connection with Tampa Bay. But it’s just too soon to give up on Jones completely.
Why can’t the Bucs just cut their losses and send Jones packing? Well, to begin with, they haven’t seen nearly enough of him to truly know that he can’t make an impact. There’s a reason the USC product was selected in the second round of last year’s draft. He had a fantastic college career and had displayed the kind of speed and explosiveness that would make him a potential force for Tampa Bay.
A rough preseason got him off to a slow start as a rookie that he never recovered from. But did he ever really get a chance to recover from the start? He only got 23 carries on the season, rushing for 44 yards and a touchdown. In the passing game, he was targeted just nine times. The sample size is extremely small for Jones. Not only that, but his offensive line didn’t exactly do him any favors on the carries that he did get.
Interesting note - Ronald Jones has run for just 44 yards on 23 attempts this season. But he has actually run for 47 yards after contact. This illustrates exactly how poor the Bucs run blocking has been this year.— Steven Cheah (@CHEAH_SAY) December 7, 2018
As Cheah says, that stat is very telling of the situation Jones was in. And never mind the date on that tweet because even though there were four games after that, Jones didn’t get another carry. Again, he just simply wasn’t used enough, even down the stretch of a season that was very clearly lost. Sure, maybe Jones wasn’t far enough along early in the season to be getting consistent carries and a high volume of snaps. But as the season progressed, he should have at least been getting some meaningful reps.
Averaging 1.9 yards per carry is a bad look, but consider the variables around that number. Getting just 23 carries in a season and playing behind a struggling offensive line isn’t exactly a recipe for production. Jones was never given the chance to get into the flow of things. He didn’t impress in the snaps he did get, but can the Bucs really say that he was put in a position to succeed? No, they can’t. That’s why rushing to push him out of town doesn’t make sense.
Now, none of this is to say Tampa Bay shouldn’t add a running back at all during this offseason. The team still needs depth. Picking up a third-down guy or a good pass-catching complement would be just fine. There are a number of options in free agency, plus some intriguing possibilities to be had in the middle rounds of the draft. Bringing someone in to push Jones for the No. 2 spot is a great idea. Where the team could go wrong is if it brings in someone that will automatically assume the starting role and push Jones down the depth chart without him having a chance to prove his worth.
Where do you sit in terms of the running back situation? Are you ready to say goodbye to Jones after one year, or do you give him a shot in 2019? It’s your turn to sound off.